Indochina, the late 1920s. The girl is fifteen-and-a-half. The holidays are over, so today she is returning to Saigon, to the boarding house where she lives while attending classes at the high school. A busload of Vietnamese has left Sadec where the girl's mother runs the village school. During the crossing of the Mekong River, the girl gets out of the bus to lean over the rails of the ferry. She is wearing a dress of raw silk, a pair of lamé shoes with high heels and, surprisingly, a man's felt hat the color of rosewood. Next to the bus on the ferry, there is a big black limousine, a Morris Léon-Bollée driven by a chauffeur. An elegant man in the back of the car gazes steadily at the girl....
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After its completion, the film was first screened in Saigon where it was well received by the "morally minded" guests. The Lover debuted theatrically in France on 22 January 1992. Its first English release came in the United Kingdom 19 June 1992. The film was licensed for release in the United States by MGM Studios, but for its theatrical debut, it first had to get past opposition by the Motion Picture Association of America. The organization gave the original film an MPAA rating of NC-17. MGM appealed after cutting three minutes of the film. Coupled with pleas from Annaud, MGM, and a sex educator who argued that the cut version was no more illicit than the 1992 sexual thriller Basic Instinct, the film's rating was changed to R. It hit American theaters on 30 October 1992.
The uncut version of the film was released to Region 1 DVD on 11 December 2001 with audio tracks in English and French and subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
The Lover was released on Blu-ray in Germany in 2011 under the title Der Liebhaber. It is not region locked and comes with subtitle and audio tracks available in German and English. It received a FSK ab 12 freigegeben rating.
The film was a box office success in France taking in 626,891 admissions its opening weekend, playing in a total of 229 theaters. In total the film received a total of 3,156,124 admissions in France, becoming the seventh-highest-grossing film of the year. The Lover grossed $4,899,194 in box office receipts in the United States when given limited release to 103 theaters. It was nominated for the 1992 Academy Award for Best Cinematography and won the 1993 Motion Picture Sound Editors Golden Reel award for "Best Sound Editing — Foreign Feature". At the 1993 César Awards in France, it was nominated for seven awards, winning in the category of "Meilleure musique écrite pour un film" (lit. "Best music written for a film") for Gabriel Yared's score.
The film received mostly negative reviews from American critics. On the aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, it has a "freshness" rating of 33%, based on 15 critical reviews. Vincent Canby of the New York Times, however, praised the film, calling it "something of a triumph" and a "tough, clear-eyed, utterly unsentimental" film that was "produced lavishly but with such discipline that the exotic locale never gets in the way of the minutely detailed drama at the center." He also complimented the performances of Tony Leung and Jane March, noting she is "wonderful" and a "nymphet beauty" in her film debut.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times compared the film to Emmanuelle or the Playboy and Penthouse erotic videos, "in which beautiful actors and elegant photography provide a soft-core sensuality. As an entry in that genre, The Lover is more than capable, and the movie is likely to have a long life on video as the sort of sexy entertainment that arouses but does not embarrass." He continued, "Is The Lover any good as a serious film? Not really. Annaud and his collaborators have got all of the physical details just right, but there is a failure of the imagination here; we do not sense the presence of real people behind the attractive facades of the two main actors."
Desson Howe of the Washington Post observed, "Director Jean-Jacques Annaud and adapter Gerard Brach provide more than a few effective moments . . . But the story is dramatically not that interesting. After establishing the affair and its immediate problems, Lover never quite rises to the occasion. Scratch away the steamy, evocative surface, remove Jeanne Moreau's veteran-voiced narration, and you have only art-film banalities."
Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly graded the film C, calling it "one more movie that titillates us with the prospect of taking sex seriously and then dampens our interest by taking it too seriously. Why do so many filmmakers insist on staging erotic encounters as if they were some sort of hushed religious ritual? The answer, of course, is that they're trying to dignify sex. But sex isn't dignified — it's messy and playful and abandoned. In The Lover, director Jean-Jacques Annaud gives us the sweating and writhing without the spontaneity and surprise."
In the United Kingdom, Channel 4 noted "the nameless characters bring to mind Last Tango's search for identity through passion, and there's a shade of Ai No Corrida's intensity. But there is none of the substance that made those two films such landmarks of their genre, and while March and Leung are an attractive pair, the glossy look and aloof direction of the film leaves you cold." The critic for Time Out London thought its "sombre quality dignifies an otherwise shoddily directed movie" that is "basically a melancholic piece about the remembrance of times, places and passions lost." He felt the role of the Young Girl was "altogether too complex for the inexperienced March to do more than simply embody."
Source : Wikipedia